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University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dean’s Corner – Fall 2020

portrait of Dean Steven Swanson
School of Pharmacy Dean Steven Swanson

Resilience. It’s a quality shared by our alumni and our School of Pharmacy community. We’re all rising to the challenges of COVID-19 and racial injustice. We’ve been working hard on our Smart Restart plan to reopen campus safely, adhering to comprehensive and stringent safety protocols. We’ve spent the summer preparing to provide high-quality instruction that ensures the world-class pharmacy education we’re recognized for as one of the best pharmacy schools in the country. We’ve also worked to help better prepare our graduates to be difference makers in eliminating health disparities.

Welcoming Our Incoming Students

I am happy to welcome a new incoming class of 103 PharmD student pharmacists, 20 PharmTox undergraduates, 26 graduate students, and two students in the Capstone Certificate program at the School of Pharmacy.  

The first-year PharmD class size this year is 25 students smaller than last year’s class, reflective of the national trend of declining applications to pharmacy schools and colleges across the country in 2020. We maintained our high admission standards as the average GPA of the incoming class is 3.58, a GPA higher than the previous four years of incoming classes. Our class demographic profile is fairly consistent — 72% of the students are from Wisconsin, similar to last year’s class, while a total of 64% of the class is women, up slightly from last year. A total of 17.5% are non-white, about three percentage points less than the previous two years. Over one-half (53%) of incoming students have a previous degree, a percentage which is slightly lower than in previous years’ incoming classes. 

The reduction in PharmD applicants to pharmacy schools has sharpened our focus on strategies to improve our ability to recruit top-notch students to the School of Pharmacy. We are increasing our efforts to recruit students at UW–Madison by spreading the word about the value of a pharmacy education and the benefits of pursuing pharmacy as a career. Our enrollment task force also is developing approaches to better inform high school students about the pharmacy profession and the role of pharmacists in the health care system. I know our alumni can play a critical role in connecting with students in communities across Wisconsin. Together, we can make PharmD enrollment robust once more.

A new world: Balancing safety and the educational experience

Our plan for the fall is to have courses offered remotely, face-to-face, or using a combination of both, depending on what we can safely offer. Face-to-face instruction in Rennebohm Hall is currently on hiatus, effective on September 10, and our instructors are delivering all content remotely. This hiatus does not affect off-campus clinical training or research in Rennebohm Hall.

Nearly all of the clinical training for our fourth year PharmD students will be face-to-face at precepting sites across the state. In addition, instruction that is necessary to learn the foundational clinical skills needed for subsequent clinical placement as a pharmacist will also be offered in person.

Our large lecture classes with more than 100 students, including the pharmacotherapy courses, are not feasible to offer without employing remote learning techniques. With current requirements for physical distancing, we do not have the capacity in Rennebohm Hall to offer these large courses in a face-to-face manner.

Kaleigh Mikolichek
Kaleigh Mikolichek, DPH-2, models the “Badgers Change Lives” mask that each student received this fall.

Maintaining the safety of our students is very important. For example, donations from our alumni helped us to make sure our students were tested for TB as required before they started their fourth-year clinical rotations. I am thankful for your donations that allow us to help our students in this manner.

For the protection of everyone, we will be conducting all of our student ceremonies, such as the White Coat Ceremony, and student organization activities virtually to promote student safety. I am proud of all of our students signing the Badger Pledge – a set of public health prevention steps — and being committed to keeping themselves and others in the School of Pharmacy community safe. I am confident our plans for students will keep them as safe as possible during the semester.

The health and safety of the faculty and staff also is a top priority. Following campus guidelines, many faculty and staff have been telecommuting since March when the pandemic started. Our research enterprise was impacted greatly by the pandemic. Although not up to full speed yet, many faculty, research staff, and graduate students returned to Rennebohm Hall in the summer and are working under approved research protocols, following CDC and campus guidelines to remain safe. I have been very pleased with the work that has been accomplished by faculty and staff at the School of Pharmacy and know that we have good plans in place to keep our faculty and staff safe this semester.    

With more remote learning, I am confident that our instructional offerings will maintain the high quality that is associated with the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy. Our faculty and staff have received resources to help them improve the remote learning experience for our students. For example, we plan to engage our students remotely via live virtual discussion sessions to expand on concepts presented during recorded lectures. Facilitating small group discussions among our students will improve learning and also provide socialization for our students, especially for our first-year students, who would benefit from interaction with their classmates to foster relationship-building and to promote professional collaboration moving forward.

Supporting our students

These trying times have helped us to identify our needs related to support for all of our students and to meet the challenges they face. We are planning to offer wellness seminars and screenings and personal- and professional-enrichment events for our students. Also, our new Pharmacy Families Program pairs individual faculty members with small groups of PharmD students, providing additional opportunities to build community and foster connections.

Mahnoor Khan holding a Badger Pharmacy pennant
Mahnoor Khan, DPH-3, shows off the pennant that donors receive for a gift of $50 or more to the Student Success & Support Campaign.

We are actively fundraising for the Student Success and Support Fund. The fund is used to facilitate the professional development of our students, build a strong community for our students at Rennebohm Hall, and deal with unforeseen issues raised by the COVID-19 situation. We are very grateful to members of our Board of Visitors, who have set a challenge of 137 gifts, celebrating the number of years of pharmacy education at UW–Madison. If we meet this goal, an additional $13,500 will be unlocked for our students. The Pharmacy Alumni Association also will match gifts from alumni graduating from 2010-2020 on a 2:1 basis, which triples the impact of a donation. Thank you to those of you who have donated to the campaign. If you have not contributed, please help us meet the challenge goal of 137 gifts and make a difference in the lives of our students.

We also are supporting our students, faculty, and staff of color by continuing to implement our strategic plan as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Over 100 of our faculty and staff recently participated in a four-hour anti-bias training led by the Women in Science & Leadership Institute (WISELI). Also, we held a First Steps: Allyship 101 town hall meeting for faculty and staff. Our student leaders in Multicultural Affairs in Pharmacy Practice (MAPP) hosted three listening sessions where they invited students of color to share their experiences with racism inside and outside of the School of Pharmacy. They will continue to provide resources for students in the weekly “Wellness Wednesday” newsletters. I am so proud of the courage our students of color demonstrated during those impactful sessions. We have more activities planned and are developing additional activities to support our current students and improve our connection with alumni of color. We reiterate our commitment to preparing the next generation of pharmacists and researchers ready to fully serve diverse communities, and to providing an inclusive experience for all members of our School of Pharmacy community.

Creating Alumni Connections

We recently launched our Alumni Link for the Class of 2020 to connect them with an alum for support, advice, and to jumpstart their professional networking as they begin their professional careers. Approximately 40 members of the Class of 2020 connected with 40 other alumni. Thank you to our participants for connecting with our newest alumni.

COVID-19 has also affected how we approach alumni events. We made the difficult decision, based on public health factors, to cancel fall events like the Alumni & Friends Tailgate, Citations of Merit Awards Dinner, and regional events at conferences. We look forward to offering several virtual events and will communicate upcoming events by email.

I am so proud and appreciate all of the hard work that the School of Pharmacy community has accomplished over the summer in preparation for the fall semester. Pharmacy Badgers show their amazing resilience during difficult times. I also appreciate all of the concern and well wishes from the many alumni who support our great School of Pharmacy.

Thank you and On, Wisconsin! 

Steven M. Swanson
Dean and Professor